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Why Are Some Evangelicals Obsessed With My Weight?

bruce gerencser 2015-002
Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog or find my page on Facebook take a look at my profile picture and, based on what they see, personally attack me by making derogatory comments about my weight or physical features. (see Did You Atheism Will Make You Fat?) Let me give you a good example of this. Several years ago, I received an email from a man named Bill Higgins. Higgins came to this blog via a Google search for “David Hyles Scandal.” His search gives away his religious preference; he is likely a Fundamentalist Baptist, the meanest and nastiest of the Christian species. Here’s what Higgins had to say:

I’m not that good of a Christian so I don’t mind saying this.

Why would you put a picture of you fat face on your website. I don’t respect fat people unless they have an excuse. I think you are just fat because you are lazy and spend to much time on your computer.

I don’t dare respond via email to people like Bill Higgins. To do so means I am giving a low-life like Higgins my email address and once I do that the emails never end.

I want to be clear about a few things. I know I am overweight, I am fat, obese, a lard-ass, whatever term people want to use for people like me. On most days, I am not ashamed of this fact. I don’t try to hide who I really am by using a picture of me taken 35 years ago. I am quite comfortable in my own skin, even if I have a lot more of it these days.

I wasn’t always overweight. When  I was 18 I was 6 foot tall and weighed 160 pounds. I played competitive sports all through school and continued to do so until I was in my early 30s. When Polly and I married in 1978 I weighed 180 pounds. After a few years of marriage, my weight reached 225 pounds and as long as I was physically active my weight stayed in the 225-250 pound range.

I have what people call a fire-plug build. My weight is pretty well-distributed from top to bottom. I don’t have a huge pot-gut like many men my size do. Ironically, because of my physical build, people often underestimate my weight. When I stopped playing competitive sports and started spending more time in the study, my weight began to climb. As I reached middle age, it became harder and harder to lose weight.

24 years ago, I came down with mononucleosis. My doctor treated me for months before he decided to do a mono test. By then, I was in big trouble and I ended up in the hospital. My liver and spleen were swollen, my tonsils and adenoids were white from the infection that was overrunning my body, and the internist told me there was nothing he could do for me. Unless my immune system kicked in and started fighting the infection, I would likely die. Well, it’s 2015, so it looks like I made it.

Mononucleosis in older adults is a serious matter. It can kill you. While I survived, the mono did a number on my body.  Mono left me with a severely compromised immune system and oddly it altered my  normal body temperature from 98.6  to 97.0. A few years later, I began to have widespread muscle and joint pain and I was fatigued all the time.  After a few years of seeing  specialists, they determined I have Fibromyalgia.  I was officially diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 18 years ago.

In 2006, I began to develop neurological problems; numbness in my thighs, face, arms and hands; loss of motor skills; memory problems. After tens of thousands of dollars of tests, several brain scans, MRI’s, CT scans,  and multiple specialists, it was determined that I have “we don’t know what the hell is wrong with you.”   While many of my symptoms point to multiple sclerosis, no doctor has been willing to say I have MS.

Last month, I wrote:

Earlier this week I saw the orthopedic doctor. He told me my body is like numerous wildfires. Put one out and others pop up. He gathered up my x-rays and MRI scans and we looked at them. He was quite blunt, telling me that I have arthritis in EVERY joint and that some of the damage is severe. Knees, shoulders, feet, hands, and back, all have arthritis that is causing joint damage. The why is unknown. Some days, the pain from the arthritis is severe, some days it is tolerable. Added to this is the muscle pain I have from Fibromyalgia. Every day is a pain day with some days worse than others. I haven’t had a pain-free day in almost twenty years.

We talked about options. He was quite frank with me, saying that because the arthritis is so pervasive that I was not a good candidate for surgery. Even with my knees and shoulders, scoping them could actually make things worse, resulting in more pain. I like this doctor because he doesn’t bullshit me. His advice? Live with it. Unless I want to have total joint replacements, surgeries that have a huge risk of complications for someone like me who has a compromised immune system, I must learn to live the pain, debility, and the ever so slow loss of function. All that he and other doctors can do for me is help manage the pain and try to improve my quality of life.

bruce 2015
Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Earlier this year I had an endoscopic ultrasound and a colonoscopy done in the hope that doctors could pinpoint why I have no appetite and why I am losing weight. (I’ve lost 50 pounds since Christmas 2014). While the weight loss has leveled off, I still have days where I have no appetite.  The tests found a lesion on my pancreas, and stones in my gallbladder. Good news? No cancer, though the lesion on my pancreas must be carefully monitored.

And then there’s my battle with skin cancer. Two months ago, I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my hip. In 2007, I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I am currently going through topical chemotherapy treatment for cancer and precancer on my lower lip. My lower lip is a bloody, ugly mess, but it beats having to have invasive, disfiguring surgery done on my lip. Thanks to being a fair-skinned redhead  and repeated blistering burns as a child and young adult, I suspect I will be battling skin cancer the rest of my life.

As you can see, my health plate is full. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that unless someone comes up with a cure things won’t get better for me. I choose to embrace my life as it is. Wishing things were different doesn’t change how things are. The pervasive pain, muscle problems, and neurological problems, have debilitated me to such a degree that, on most days, it is all I can do to get up, do a little work in the office, and then spend the rest of the day in the recliner.

On the days when I think I am feeling better, I try to do some of the projects that need to be done around the house or yard. These activities tend to wear me out quickly and I often pay a heavy price for overdoing it. A few hours of work in the garage or yard often results in me having to spend a couple of days in bed or sitting in my recliner. Part of my problem is that I have never been good at doing anything halfway. Moderation? Not in my dictionary. Unfortunately, my inability or unwillingness to pace myself often extracts a hefty physical price from me. Like my friend Michael Mock told me, Bruce you are just one of those kind of people who just have to crash and burn. Out of the ashes I rise again only to start the process all over again.

An inability to do much of anything physically means I don’t burn off a lot of calories. I am not a glutton and Polly and I, for the most part, eat healthily. Because I am quite sedentary, it’s hard to have meaningful weight loss. It is not that I don’t do anything physically, but due to the physical problems I have I simply cannot do the physical things I want or need to do. It doesn’t help that I have to use a wheelchair or a cane to get around. I have turned into a slow-moving vehicle. I do what I can, but there are days and weeks that the pain is so severe that all the mind over matter pep talks in the world won’t help me move.

karah and bruce gerencser 2015
Karah and Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some days, I can’t even bear to have anyone touch me. It just hurts too much. I love it when the grand kids come over, but by the time they are done tramping by my recliner, bumping into me, and jumping in my lap, I feel like the day after a bruising football game. I love having my grand kids around and they are one of the big reasons I get up in the morning and face another day. When they are here I grin, grit, and bear it, giving praise to the gods, of Vicodin, Tramadol, Naproxen, and Zanaflex. I would rather die than not be able to have my grandchildren sit on my lap. (see Please, Don’t Touch Me)

Back to Bill Higgins and his comments about my weight. Yes, I am overweight and there is little I can do about it. I try to watch what I eat, limit my carbohydrate intake, and eat my veggies. Yes, I do spend a lot of time in front of the computer and I watch a lot of TV. I also spend hours a day blogging, answering email, and reading. I would probably do less of these things if I could, but I can’t, so I am grateful for being able to read, write, watch TV, and search the internet.

Of course, Higgins, and others like him, don’t care about any of these things. In their mind, I am a fat, lazy, worthless human being and they enjoy trying to destroy me with their words. Do Higgins’s words hurt? Sure. Like most people, I want to be liked and respected. No one like being verbally assaulted. The internet protects people like Higgins from being held accountable for what they say. There is nothing I can do about this. As long as I am a public figure and write about the things I do, I know I am going to attract people who take great pleasure in demeaning me. Little do they know that their hateful words say more about them than they do me.

Thanks for reading. This is not a plea for understanding or support or a request for links to the latest, greatest cure-all or diet. This is me talking out loud. Maybe someone will find a bit of encouragement or understanding from what I have written.


  1. Avatar

    I remember when I first learned that the biggest assholes in the world are the ones who put the fish on their business card, the cross or the fish or the jesus bumper sticker on their cars… the ones who are just so goddamned holy you can’t POSSIBLY be as good as they are.

    I was SO disappointed. Truly. These people had been held up to me as paragons of virtue. Instead of being held to a higher standard, they used their religion to shit on other people.

    Fuck that guy. And the cross he rode in on.

  2. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    People who fat-shame are ignorant, but often willfully so. They don’t realize how hard it is for some of us to lose our fat. And even when we do as best as we can, it is never good enough for them. They minimize our successes, discount our obstacles, and magnify our failures. They’ve judged us and found us wanting. Done.

    But Bruce, we don’t need excuses to be fat. We are what we are. Our life journeys have led us wherever they have led us, and our ultimate value has nothing to do with how much excess insulation we carry. People who judge us based on our size rather than our character will always be there. As far as I’m concerned, they can go play in the freeway.

    I would like to weigh less. I continue to plug away at making my body better, as well as I can given my physical limitations. But I’m doing that for myself, not to fit some norm or make some ignoramus happy.

    Finally, you’ve been accused of being lazy. I’ve found that people who make that accusation rarely do it from a position to understand the productivity of the person they’re accusing. In fact, they often have no appreciation for creativity and the productivity of the mind — or the limitations of the mind, for that matter. Mental health issues? Just lazy. Crippling pain? Just lazy. Spend the day writing? Just lazy (and the accuser can seldom string three coherent sentences together). Willful ignorance.

  3. Avatar
    Mary Ellen

    I know a little bit how you feel…I hurt a lot(mom has fibro and I’m beginning to wonder if I do too), and some of the people over the years here where I live, who were the cruelest to me about my weight and size, were the fundagelicals…and they wonder why I walked away? (((HUGS)))

  4. Avatar

    The thing called evangelical/fundy is comprised of folks who alter their definition of healthy boundaries regarding human discourse. They welcome folks into their midst at church, all smiling and so so genuine and within no time they are telling those same people to do this and not that and to wear this and not that and to beware even of what they have going through their minds. They become emotional bullies. They are serving the Big Bully. It never surprises me when they resort to stupidity as this fellow does with Bruce.
    My rather large missionary aunt once visited us from her station in Africa and sat down on a chair in our living room. The two front legs promptly collapsed and she was on the floor. My twin brother and I were about 7 or 8 at the time and my brother walked straight up to her and asked: Have you weighed yourself lately?
    My aunt laughed but my dad was not pleased with his lack of decorum. She was big and he meant no harm in his question. But the fellow you speak of, Bruce, meant to harm you. He wants you to feel shame and blame. He is a real Christian. Real Christians are such creeps sometimes.

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    He’s got nothing left but cheap and dumb insults. He’s unable to bring any argument with substance on ANY of your stands. He’s just frustrated that an atheist and liberal can destroy his arguments with clarity, intelligence and a nice amount of snark and he’s stuck trying to defend bad ideas.

    As usual, you have more dignity, intelligence and compassion in a fingernail pairing than this clown has in his entire body. Keep up the good work and if needed we in your “flying monkey squad” can take the argument down a few notches and really annoy him.


  6. Avatar

    Frankly, I think you should consider more comely, modest attire. Your suspenders, your manly jeans and boots, your staff! are all likely in my opinion to cause some weaker vessels to stumble. The weaker vessels have no power to stop themselves and that you have been given a solid tree of distraction allows you the holy opportunity to seek a more sapling-like appearance for the sake of the womenfolk! Jus’ sayin’…

  7. Avatar

    I’m so sorry you had to deal with that, but in many ways I am not surprised. I continue to find my fellow Christians for the most part judgmental and severely handicapped in the love, grace and mercy departments. I really enjoy reading what you write here, and you have a gift of expressing yourself eloquently. I don’t think most Christians have a true understanding of how atheists feel or think, and honestly have no desire to carry on an open dialogue. They simply want to debate and convert.
    I personally grew up as the fat little kid that everybody picked on in school. Getting bullied over my weight was a common occurrence. By the time I hit middle school I managed to shed the weight but was still the outcast and the subject of continued bullying. All of this has made me especially sympathetic to somebody dealing with weight issues no matter what the cause. It infuriates me when somebody chooses to laugh at or judge somebody who is struggling with their weight.
    In the end, just shrug them off and keep on keeping on. You look great and never owe anybody an explanation for your personal appearance.

  8. Avatar

    Olo Bruce,

    Due to iffy internet I’ve only been able to view your words of wisdom from afar. This post though prompted me to brave weak wifi to share my thoughts on being the “incorrect” weight.

    My late husband was built like you – a solid Viking of a man. Until the year he died he didn’t look sick and you know people just had to say something (usually rude if they weren’t family).

    For me I’m hypothyroid and genetically German with a splash of Norwegian, Swedish, French, and Romanian. At my thinnest I was size 10, 130 pounds, and looked starving person, complete with cadaver like clavicles with a butt. Sigh. All my weight was skeleton and derriere (thanks genetics!). I got that way by eating as much rice as I could stand once a day.

    I’ve learned that some people can’t handle body differences. To them everyone is born with good health and the same body type. To them my being 130 pounds at 5’7″ was an ideal weight even though I was starving as one meal a day of rice does not make Connie a healthy girl. I don’t recommend my diet choice as my metabolism freaked and thirty years later is still glitchy.

    I see pictures of you Bruce and I see you – the person within. I sympathize with the diagnosis of ‘we don’t know what you have but yep, you’ve got it’. I’m glad you are still here writing. If energy really did work like it does in the books I read then you will receive the soothing thoughts you need most when you need them most. Hope it works. If not, I don’t expect anyone else to follow my ways. Shoot, I have a hard enough time keeping up with myself as it is.

    Sending gentle hugs. C.

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    I think you look just fine. Just ignore the idiot who was so cruel. You look like you are enjoying life as much as you can. It is all any of us can do or ask for. Thanks for sharing.

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    I know it is hard to hear this kind of stuff, especially when it personal and against some aspect of your appearance, but you have to expect ribbing from the other side. I’ve laughed at fat jokes about Jerry Falwell for example. Such ad hominem attacks don’t discredit Higgins’ opinions nor do they add to his credibility. Higgins calls himself as “not that good of a Christian”, well that’s just it we all behave the same no mater what sort of creed we desperately cling to. Christians ain’t any better than anybody else. I know the slings and arrows of the other side has made you quit blogging from time to time. I’m pretty thin skinned too and can see why it is hard to endure it. It can show someone losing an argument, and in my opinion that’s what it is about. If it is any consolation I think you are quite handsome in the same vein as Santa Claus. Of course you aren’t sexy anymore, but being in the grandfather business you don’t need to be. Weight loss doesn’t always lead to a better looking person, look at Penn Jillette, looks like someone deflated a balloon, his naturaly clownish look completely destroyed.

    • Avatar
      Becky Wiren

      Huh. Bruce has a great smile, but his level of sexiness is of great interest to ONE person. If SHE thinks he is sexy, that’s all that matters. 😉

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      What kind of Christian Higgins is, is kind of irrelevant to me. I’m willing to pass judgment on what kind of human he is: a jerk. Fat shaming, whether the target is your ally or your enemy, is just inappropriate. Okay, it shows someone losing an argument, but it is still inappropriate. My sense of your post is that you don’t really get that.

      For example, I despise Chris Christie, but his waistline battle is his own. The same is true of Kim Davis. I can think of all manner of criticism to level against these people. Their appearance is pretty irrelevant. I also have friends of various sizes and shapes; I’m not going to whisper about those with non-optimal bodies behind their backs, or make cutting remarks to their faces, or police their food and exercise. We all have our own dragons under the bed.

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    maura hart

    i’m so sorry you’ve been hurt. why are christians so full of rage and fear>? that’s all that is. do they seriously believe that christ was like them or they are christ-like? its so deeply saddening.

  12. Avatar
    Caterina Runyon-Spears

    My opinion – you look open and friendly, something I find that most Fundamentalists do not. I’d rather have a beverage and a chat with you than Higgins any time.

  13. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    A Santa for adults, complete with a listening ear and patience. I like that idea. Couldn’t have said it better.

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Bruce Gerencser